Minutes of the HSLFL AGM – Held at Guestling Bradshaw Primary School on Friday 27th May, 2016
Richard Homewood (Chairman)
Roger & Margaret Mitchell
Sue Furness (minutes), Corinne Harris, Esther Tommy, Alison Day
Jayne Bebbe, Letitia Huggins (and Letitia’s auntie), Isabel Hodger
Richard Lane and Christine Boulton-Lane, Edwin & Adele Rew
Faith Rew, Ray Keene, David Turner, Cllr Nigel Sinden, Eileen & Bill Evans
Nola McSweeney, Liz MacKay, John Geater and 2 guests
Tom Collins, Cllr James Bacon, Peter Pragnell, Eve Martin, Martin Copland
Yvonne Johnson, Yvette John, Rev Rene Jarrett, Edwin Jarrett, Janet Sisey, Comfort Foster, Dandola Brew (Sierra Leone Hastings Association UK)
- Apologies for Absence
Dain Jenson, John Myers, Lewis Hall, Judy Irvin, Janet Jarvis, Derek Tomblin, Robin Gray, Gillian Rubi, Paul and Carol Cabban, Richard & Lynn White.
Richard welcomed everyone to the meeting and apologised for the delay, which was due to the late finish of the football tournament.
- Minutes of AGM of 2015
These were accepted by the meeting, with no matters arising.
- Chairman’s Report
Richard presented his report for 2015 (- See Appendix A, below).
He outlined the main activities of the Link especially in light of the Ebola crisis. Rebuilding the education links, improving health care for the community and helping the community establish new businesses and rebuild the local economy are the key challenges for the community with the support of the LInk.
Towards the end of last year we sent out medical supplies, resources for schools and furniture for the Twin Town Centre.
Earlier this year, Roger, Richard L and Christine visited with Sierra Leone to assess the impact of Ebola on Health and Education. Richard thanked those who made the journey, particularly Yvonne, without whose support and guidance the visit could not have happened.
Communication had been difficult during the Ebola outbreak but is now improving with the new Headman in Hastings and the Development Committee there beginning to work with us.
Many fundraising events have taken place during the year (as detailed in the full report) but now we want to think about what we need to focus our efforts on in the future. We need to ensure that whatever projects we spend money on now, have a significant impact and are sustainable in the future.
Our three priorities will be: Schools & Education, improving livelihoods and improving healthcare. The recent contact with the Development Committee is encouraging and they have indicated their support for these priorities.
It had been a challenging year and what has been achieved would not have been possible without the help and commitment of everyone involved. Richard thanked:-
Roger for maintaining schools links
Christine & the health committee for all their work with the Health Centre
Richard L for his work with the children
Yvonne & Yvette and the London Association for all the help they give us and the wonderful food
Steph (Robin Gray’s son) who has revamped the website
Fellow trustees, members and volunteers, fundraisers
Hastings Borough Council for continuing financial support.
The Link would now look to continue dialogue with the Development Committee, finalise the Strategy and concentrate on fundraising. Looking ahead to February 2017 we will be hoping to send a large party to Sierra Leone to resurrect the projects that had been started and begin work on new projects.
- Schools’ Report
Roger presented his report (- See Appendix B, below).
We now have 13 partnerships with more in the pipeline. Some are more successful than others. Technology such as mobile phones has helped communication.
Roger also highlighted the Ebola crisis and the problems it caused to schools.
Teachers from the Link here and in Hastings Sierra Leone continue to meet regularly, as does the IPC, all of which are imperative in keeping the link strong.
Roger talked about his recent visit to Sierra Leone during which he visited all the schools and met with the Headteachers.
Isabel has volunteered to help with schools and encourage curricular links and will be a great asset to the schools’ link.
Roger outlined the new guidelines of the new British Council Connecting Classrooms grants, which includes lack of funds to pay for a returning teacher.
He congratulated Dudley and Little Ridge Schools for fundraising to fund the visit of Letitia and Esther this week.
A question was raised asking how much it costs to fund a SL teacher to visit the UK. Roger confirmed that it depends on accommodation (hotel or home). Airfares vary greatly but with flights, visa etc., it would cost approximately £1000.
A further question was raised regarding the possibility of children visiting SL. Roger confirmed that the only opportunities would be open to sixth form pupils and currently, there is no link with a sixth form college.
A question was raised about the effect of ebola on the end of school exams. Letitia answered that the end of school exams had been postponed until tomorrow (28 May), so they were unsure how well the children will do. She further confirmed that the schools will return to normal school curriculum from September.
- Health Report
Christine began by thanking Richard, as Chairman, for his hard work this year.
Christine said it was a privilege to be part of the Health Committee and that she has the most amazing team, whom she took the opportunity to thank.
Throughout the Ebola crisis the staff at the Health Centre continued to care about general health. They changed the way they operated but continued to look after people. We should all be very proud of the staff, who are very hardworking.
Both she and Yvonne confirmed how difficult it had been for the Health Centre to function both during and after the Ebola crisis. Water and electricity supplies were both a problem.
Christine confirmed that they were working with the Western Health Authority in a supportive and encouraging role. She had met with Dr Samba during the visit to ensure he was happy with the work we were doing.
- Membership Renewal
Bill Evans reminded people that membership renewals are due (£5 per year). New members welcome!
- Treasurer’s Report
Ray presented his report (hard copy circulated at the meeting along with the balance sheet).
He reminded delegates that his report refers to year ended December 2015.
Income was just under £24,000. £952 related to money collected by schools, which was sent out to schools in SL.
Expenditure totaled £15052, including £100 in connection with the Teachers’ collection.
There was a surplus of £8741 and discussions are ongoing on the best way to use this money to assist our friends in Sierra Leone.
Ray outlined the various fundraising activities and the support received from other agencies.
Ray also expressed his gratitude for the support from Hastings Borough Council.
The largest individual item was the cost of sending the container (£4500) and it is debatable as to whether this is the most cost effective way of sending items to Sierra Leone.
Accounts have been independently examined and accepted by Trustees.
- Election of Officers
Richard announced that Ray was standing down after 5 and half years as treasurer. Richard thanked him for all his help and support over the past years. Roger and Richard presented a gift from the Link to Ray as a token of their gratitude.
Roger took the chair regarding election of Chairman and asked for any nominations. There were no other nominations in writing so in view of the fact that Richard has indicated his willingness to stand, a vote was taken. Unanimous vote and Richard was returned as Chairman.
Derek Tomblin was re-elected as vice chair, Robin Gray as secretary, Bill Evan as membership secretary, all of whom had stated their willingness to continue. Martin Copland nominated and duly elected as Treasurer.
Sierra Leone Association London are having day out at Camber Sands this year. 13th August – will be there for most of the day. They would love to see people there. Flyers given out.
Richard thanked everyone at Guestling Bradshaw Primary School for hosting the event and Yvonne and Yvette for providing the catering.
Rev Jarrett thanked everyone for their support, saying that when we all meet together we create a ‘whirlpool of love’ and we all pull together and we should thank God. He then led a prayer of thanks.
- Date of Next Ordinary General Meeting
Wednesday 6th July at Aquila House, 6pm.
After the main meeting, Christine showed a Powerpoint of photos of her recent visit, showing conditions at the Health Centre.
Roger had a case of bags, hats etc. to sell, made by women working with Francis Mason’s wife Abi. He urged schools to perhaps sell them at summer fayres.
Chairperson’s Annual Report 2015
My second year as Chair of the Link has proved as equally challenging as the first. As the battle against Ebola gained momentum and it seemed at last that the combined efforts of world aid agencies and dedicated medical staff on the ground were winning the fight, efforts continued here to raise funds for immediate supplies for the Health Centre and the community in Hastings.
At last toward the end of the year the news came that Sierra Leone had been declared Ebola free and planning for a possible visit by a small group to see first-hand what the impact of Ebola on the community had been, began in earnest.
It was widely recognised that recovery from the effects of the outbreak would be just as challenging, if not more so, than recovering from the rebel war. The impact of school closures for over a year on attitudes to education, convincing parents again how important education is and the time it had taken time for children to return to school, all combined to set back the good progress that had been made on education.
Rebuilding the local economy and helping the community establish new businesses is another key challenge for all aid agencies.
The outbreak had also highlighted how poor the health infrastructure was before and how ill-equipped it was to deal with even routine health issues and even more so with an outbreak such as Ebola. The Link had continued to do what it could to support the Hastings Health Centre and get funds and supplies to it.
It was therefore with some anticipation and relief that we were able to send a small group to visit and assess the situation in February this year. My thanks go to those who made the journey, Roger, Christine and Richard and to Yvonne, without whose support and guidance, the visit would not have happened.
The visit enabled Roger to assess the impact Ebola had had on the schools and education and Christine was able to establish how the supplies we had sent during the outbreak had been used to support the Health Centre and assess what else we could do to help it continue to provide health care and develop. Richard Lane was able to spend time teaching lawn tennis to the children and, with Yvonne’s support, the team were able to start rebuilding relationships with the Head Man and the local Association and to begin to identify future priorities for the community.
As a result of that renewed engagement and meetings and discussions with the Hastings Association in London we are now beginning a dialogue with the Development Committee in Hastings SL to agree priorities for support from future fundraising and secure sustainable improvements for the community. These discussions will it is hoped enable us to finalise and agree the Link Strategy 2016 – 2021 to aid the recovery from Ebola.
We will hear from both Roger and Christine later today about their experiences and their findings.
Management of the Link
Moving on to the events of 2015;
Our General Committee met on six occasions during the year to hear reports from the Treasurer and the conveners of sub-committees and to discuss all issues affecting the work of the Link.
Regular meetings of the sub-committees for Health and for Education took place throughout the year, ably chaired by Christine and Roger respectively.
The Trustees also met on two occasions to work through the detail of and refine the draft strategy, review budget commitments and discuss further ideas for fundraising activities.
Partnership Activities with the Community of Hastings Sierra Leone
Due to the Ebola outbreak no exchange visits were possible during 2015.
Lynn and Richard White held a BBQ in May as usual however to mark the occasion when SL teachers would normally have been here. A collection was made and donated to Link funds.
A report in the Lancet Global Health on the impact of Ebola highlighted to us that it was now more important than ever before that in the aftermath of Ebola we should be helping the Hastings Health Centre. Efforts continued to assemble equipment and supplies for the Health Centre and a container was hired to store the material pending shipment. The container was eventually shipped to Sierra Leone in November and we are grateful to Hastings Self Storage and ABC Transport who provided the storage facilities and transport of the shipment to Rockel in London at discounted rates.
Letters to the President, Minister of Health etc. unfortunately failed to achieve any concessions regarding the import duty on the shipment and a further £1500 of funds were used to pay this.
The St Leonards Rotary Club fundraising for the electrical system continued throughout the year with a Quiz Night in February, an African evening attended by King Masco and a Murder Mystery Night in November. Solar power proved too problematical and unsustainable and a complete rewiring of the Health Centre and repair of the generator was completed at the end of the year as an alternative solution.
We will continue to support the development and improvement of the facilities at the Health Centre as one of our core priorities and Christine will update us further during her presentation later today.
Our thanks must go the Eric and everyone at the St Leonard’s Rotary Club for their hard work.
Our thanks must also go to Christine and the rest of the Health Sub-Committee for their determined efforts.
Waste and Recycling
Without any visits to Hastings SL during 2015 no progress has been made with the waste and recycling projects. We understand two of the units are still operating at houses in the village. Contact with the Technical Institute where the technology was to be integrated into their alternative energy curriculum had been lost but only recently we have received a message from Mohamed Kamara at the Technical Institute which we will be following up.
Maintaining links with the schools in SL has been a real challenge for Roger and his team of teachers and pressures on teachers and schools in the UK have added to this challenge. Roger will be providing an update on the current situation later today.
Our thanks must go to Roger and the team for their continued efforts to maintain the links between the schools and to rebuild them now visits are possible once again.
Fundraising efforts continued at a pace during 2015. Work to raise the profile of the Link through increased press coverage and the Facebook site continued and we were able to revamp the Links website to give it a more modern look and make it more intuitive and easier to navigate. Our thanks must go to Steph for his time and efforts on this. I am sure anybody who has visited the new website will agree it is a vast improvement.
There remains however a concern that we have not gained greatly in committed membership as a consequence and we need to continue to develop ways of marketing the Link, presenting it in a professional mannner and attracting new members.
We must offer our special thanks all of our members and our friends and colleagues in the community for the tremendous efforts they have made during the year. We must also thank Hastings Borough Council for its continued support even in the face of severe financial constraints it faces and we hope this will continue.
A range of events took place during the year and raised significant sums for the work to continue:
- Over the Christmas period 2014 and into 2015 the ‘orange quiz sheets’ designed by Robin Gray and Nola McSweeney proved extremely popular once again and raised £1,000.
- The traditional annual quiz night masterminded by the same team was held in March at the William Parker School. It proved extremely popular attracting 33 teams and raised £1,600.
- In September we held a Music quiz which proved extremely popular and raised over £550.
- A hugely successful Charity Ball was held in October at the Montgomery Suite at Banatynes Hotel with guest appearances by Lianne Carol and the Kites and raised over £2,500.
- Schools have continued to undertake a variety of fund-raising efforts, including Robertsbridge College where students raised over £700 for the Ebola fund.
- We have also received generous donations from fundraising by the local community including another ‘Cheese Fest’ at the Department of Transport offices and from several doners who wish to remain anonymous.
Partnership with the Sierra Leone Hastings Association (UK):
We have continued to be privileged to have such good friends amongst the Sierra Leonean diaspora in London. Your chairman and his partner along with Roger and Margaret were warmly welcomed at the Association’s Valentine Dance in February 2015.
Yvonne Johnson and Yvette John and others were regular visitors to our events in Hastings, always bringing a choice buffet – to the BBQ, the AGM, the School Soccer Tournament, and the Gala Concert.
We warmly thank the Association and the Church of the Good Shepherd for their generous support and donations throughout the year.
2015 has been another extremely challenging and worrying year as we watched the tragic events that unfolded in Sierra Leone and neighbouring Guinea and Liberia. These events made us even more determined to raise funds and maintain the profile and plight of the Hastings, SL community. There is no doubt that without the efforts of all of our members and friends in the community we could not have achieved what we have.
Now that the Ebola outbreak is over there is a real risk that the focus of international aid agencies will be diverted to other crises. This will make our efforts to help our friends in Hastings SL recover.
We need to ensure that every penny we raise is put to good use and has a maximum and sustained impact. We are at last actively engaging with the head Man and the local committee members. We need to understand what their priorities are and listen to them. We need to work with them to provide help that will support sustainable projects that will continue without a reliance on more funds in the future, so that we can make progress and introduce other new initiatives. Once we understand their priorities and they understand the need for projects to sustain themselves once established, I am sure we will be able to achieve a lot more.
Once we receive feedback from the Head Man and the Committee we will be able to finalise the strategy and target our fundraising campaigns to specific projects.
Finally I must offer my personal thanks and those of everyone involved to Ray for his sterling efforts as Treasurer over the past 7 years. He has decided it is time to refocus his energies though he has promised he will still be appearing at various events throughout the year.
We are fortunate to have found a new treasurer, Martin Copland, and I would welcome him.
I close by thanking my colleague officers on the Committee and Trustees of the Link for their support and hard work throughout the year. Beyond those with specific roles there are many others who attend our rather ad-hoc Ordinary General Meetings and support us at various events and in many different ways during the year.
Education Report 2015
During the year the following partnerships were active:
Dudley Infant Academy : Edest Infant and Primary School, Jui
ARK Blacklands PA: REC Hastings Infant and Primary School
Christ Church CEP School: Kankalay Islamic School, Hastings
Christ Church CEP School: St Mulumba RCP School, Hastings
The Baird PA: Beckley Preparatory School
ARK Little Ridge PA: REC Jui Lower Primary School
St Leonard’s CEPA: REC Rokel Primary School
St Mary Star of the Sea RCP School: Regmel Preparatory School, Hastings
St Paul’s CEP School: REC Kossoh Town Primary School
West St Leonard’s PA: Glory Primary School, Hastings
Robertsbridge Community College: Kelly’s Technical Secondary School, Hastings
St Leonard’s Academy: Huntingdon Secondary School, Jui
Ore Village PA sought to join a partnership with Maynard School, Kossoh Town but withdrew as a result of adverse circumstances.
One of the staff at St Leonard’s Academy, Sophie Butel, who came to SL with us in 2014, moved to teach at a school in Jersey and has initiated a link with Huntingdon Secondary School in Allen Town and we, together with Francis Mason, are offering logistical support.
Academisation has caused some difficulties as new managements have often been unaware of what had gone before. In most cases however these issues are being resolved.
The Ebola Crisis
All schools were closed in Sierra Leone for two terms during the year and East Sussex LEA banned any exchanges. It was a mercy that there were few Ebola cases in the Hastings area.
Teachers in SL were not being paid for some of the time. As reported last year our schools in the UK raised six thousand pounds to be sent out as personal gifts to teachers. This worked out at about £30 a head. The route for the money was through a bank in Freetown where a trusted cashier was sent a list of Headteachers and staff names in each school provided by Francis Mason. Collection by the Headteachers and distribution to individual staff seemed to go very well and many expressions of gratitude were received.
Later in the year a container packed with material for the Health Centre and for the schools was dispatched. Our schools contributed huge quantities of educational material packed in boxes labelled clearly with their destination schools. There was the usual hiatus at the docks in Freetown and delivery to Hastings came eventually unannounced, which meant that Francis Mason was not at the opening of the container. Nonetheless distribution seems to have happened much as we had planned.
Grants from the British Council.
As reported last year, seven of our schools had been awarded grants for exchanges during the year. These were withdrawn and no amount of pleading could lead to them being held over until the Ebola crisis ended. During the year the existing system of grants came to an end anyway and, though a new scheme was promised, nothing materialised during the year.
The Link Teachers from our schools met on five occasions during the year.
The International Pupil Council met at least termly. Items discussed were the desire to have a Twinning sign on the roads leading into the town and ways in which various international days could be used in schools for projects specifically related to our partnerships. Sue Furness continues to convene these meetings.
For both sets of meetings we are sometimes disappointed that not all schools are represented. That makes planning very difficult.
Annual Soccer Tournament
Once again, Teresa Bennett did an excellent job for us in organising this hugely enjoyable event in May. St Mary Star of the Sea emerged victorious in both the boys’ and the girls’ tournaments. We are so grateful to Teresa and to the Senior Management of St Leonards Academy for facilitating this event.
We are indebted to Francis for the coordinating work that he continues to undertake for us in SL. Communication has always been a major difficulty for our partnerships and his ready email communication is an important feature of our work. He calls meetings of Headteachers and Principals with about the same frequency as ourselves. He is increasingly becoming involved with the work of the British Council in Freetown, which can only help to keep our Link in the minds of the staff there.
Toilet blocks have been built at three schools with funding from schools and individuals (at Kankalay, REC Hastings and Edest). Such facilities contribute enormously to community health. In addition two schools have had wells built again funded largely by their partners (at Jui Lower and Edest. Sadly the former was not dug deep enough to cope with the dry season adequately). We need to consider developments such as these when some of our schools want to contribute to capital projects. We need to regard such ventures within the overall context of the HSLFL Strategy Plan.
Update on Progress in 2016
I was able to visit all our partner schools in February. As usual I was welcomed effusively and the appreciation for our concern and support amongst our partner schools is palpable. I was able to take material and pupil work to all the schools and bring back items and photographs and video greetings to encourage our schools.
Francis had organised a day conference for Headteachers and Principals at the Twin Town Centre. I found this enormously encouraging and enjoyable. It opened the way for closer cooperation on the curriculum and enthusiasm for future visits.
Welcome to Isabel Hodger
I am delighted that Isabel has volunteered to help me to develop the partnership work. She has experience as an LEA Mathematics Adviser, a Primary Headteacher, a school governor and has several years’ recent VSO experience in Africa.
She is thus an ideal person to encourage and advise upon curriculum initiatives. She is already visiting schools with me and has taken over the role of liaison with the British Council.
British Council Grants
Within the last few weeks the British Council has announced the next round of Connecting Classroom grants. These are more closely prescribed than previously and will demand of our schools and their partners a greater level of commitment. Their emphasis is on Staff Professional Development. Firstly, one or two staff of both schools must undertake a training course before an application is made. A grant of £3000 can then be applied for to cover two UK staff travelling to and spending time in their partner school working on a joint curriculum project. This project has to fall within guidelines specified by the BC. The guidelines are designed to allow adaptation to the specific needs of each partnership. There is, however, no funding for an African teacher to come the UK and only one grant can be applied for in the 3-year period 2017 to 2019. Furthermore, the exchange trips can only be undertaken at certain prescribed times of the year. Only in 2018 would our usual visit time fall within one of these periods. Other periods will encounter the rainy season which we have avoided hitherto.
Ore Village PA’s decision not to proceed with a partnership with Maynard School left us with a problem, particularly as Maynard was originally to be partnered with William Parker before it became an Academy and the new management failed to show any interest. I was extremely anxious not to let them down a second time. Happily, Guestling Bradshaw CEP School has taken up the challenge with great enthusiasm.
While in SL in February I was approached by the Heads of REC Jui Upper Infant and Primary School to find them a partner. I was impressed by these two men, Mr Abu and Mr K Kamara, and am very keen to act. Last Friday Isabel and I spoke to the Education Futures’ Headteachers’ meeting on the subject and hope that may bear fruit in due time.
The future is full of exciting possibilities but I am conscious of the pressure that our schools are under to focus on test results to the exclusion of much else. I feel embarrassed when encouraging teachers to undertake the extra work involved. I am convinced that these partnerships have so much to offer our schools in relation to understanding people from other cultures and with very different life opportunities. The new requirement to teach ‘British Values’ can however benefit from them and perhaps justifies spending time and effort on direct links with friends in sub-Saharan Africa.